Con report: UK Games Expo 2018

This year I was at UK Games Expo for two hours, from 2pm on Sunday until it closed; and then all evening and the following morning, catching up with designers and publishers.

I’ll start by telling you why I was only at UKGE for two hours – and then I’ll tell you (spoiler alert) why I intend to be there a lot longer next year.

Month by month since the last Expo I slowly lost interest in going. As I mentioned in last year’s Con Report I’d been hugely unimpressed with the Hilton Metropole, where a large chunk of the convention happened. I’d also consistently looked at hotels near the NEC and all were ridiculously expensive, while options to travel by public transport in and out are really poor if you want to stay late into the evening (as trains stop early and taxis are extortionate).

To make things worse, on several occasions during last year’s event I had been unable to find a table to play games on – one of the fundamental reasons to go in the first place. Add to this ridiculous pricing and rude staff in the hotel (the Expo staff, by contrast, were great) and it just didn’t add up.

The final straw was, in a question to organisers about any possible solutions to the seating problems, I received a short (frankly rude) reply telling me UKGE had more open gaming than either Essen (irrelevant, as it isn’t an open gaming event) or SorCon (which has around a 10th of the attendance, so in essence had way more gaming space ‘per gamer’ – the important number). Well fuck them then, I thought. I won’t go.

So why did you turn up then, smart arse?

As Expo 2018 neared, it started to become apparent I had other reasons to be there.

After being told Pioneer Days wouldn’t be there, a late deal was struck to get it on demo table all weekend on a retailer’s stand. I was then told my most recent design, Witless Wizards, would be there to demo ahead of its late June Kickstarter campaign (until June 28 – all support appreciated!) – and that a meeting on a co-design with David Thompson, Europe Divided, was also scheduled. Oh my…

While all this was brilliant, I now had a ticket for Camden Rocks in London on the Saturday – and it wasn’t as if the hotel problems had gone away. But a quick Google showed that – surprise surprise – hotels for the Sunday night (after Expo had finished) were less than half the price of the night before. How do they make their money…? Anyway, a Sunday/Monday trip was born.

Which was great in theory. Unfortunately, getting trains across country (between East Anglia and the Midlands) just isn’t the done thing on a Sunday morning. If you want to travel before about midday you instead have to go via London – for twice (literally) the price. The earliest I was going to arrive was 1.15 – but with the inevitable delays that turned into 2pm. But hey, better late than never right?

My (brief) UK Games Expo 2018

What became immediately apparent was the area used inside the NEC had massively grown, while also being more practically laid out. This also meant less time had to be spent in the Hilton, so double bonus. I know people who didn’t go to the Hilton at all.

There had been a big jump in tier one publishers the previous year and while this didn’t seem to have gone up much, if at all, you could tell some of them were taking it more seriously. The main hall really felt like a proper, large, professional gaming con – it wouldn’t have been out of place at Essen.

While food and drink were a little expensive in the halls, that’s to be expected – and it wasn’t extortionate. Plus you could bring your own, so it’s your fault if you didn’t prepare (Unlike the Hilton, where you weren’t meant to bring your own stuff). Also, the likes of a Wetherspoons, a Subway (ick) and some other food places were a short walk away.

But most importantly for me, the open gaming areas were big enough. It’s the first year when the organisers seem to have looked two years ahead rather than one and not only made enough space, but had extra to spare too. I don’t know if this was due to a smaller rise in numbers this year, or deliberate planning, but the key was I didn’t hear a single complaint about not finding somewhere to game, even at its busiest.

Looking forward to UKGE 2019

Where previously views have been mixed, I couldn’t find anyone complaining about the show this year – which is quite remarkable, as I know some pretty miserable, sour individuals!

Open and family gaming areas were praised, as were staff, while the layout also met with approval. It looks as if next year they’ll be able to start planning from solid ground, rather than in the past always trying to play catch-up.

Personally, my saddest issue is not with the con itself but with UK gamers (sorry everyone!): as more of a euro gamer, you definitely get the feeling walking around that the majority of interest was in miniature games and CCGs. I guess its par for the course for us to go down the same route as the Americans, but I was hoping for once we might show our euro side (I blame Brexit. And Thatcher). But the event has definitely won me back over.

Hotels are still a problem, of course: I can’t see myself staying the full weekend unless I win the lottery. But we’ll see. One thing’s for sure though – I’ll see you at Expo next year.

2 thoughts on “Con report: UK Games Expo 2018

  1. I enjoy it for the well-run TTR and Agricola tournaments. I thought the rest of it was largely a waste of time given, as you have highlighted, it was so much aimed at the mini/fantasy/ameritrash end of the market. I blame the comic convention next door! And when there was a game of interest it turned out to be unpublished/ks games rather than newly published games to buy. Open gaming was good in terms of space but they need a flag system for helping people find games to join. I was traveling on my own and found no way of determining where people might have a space for me to join a game. Mind you, I didn’t have any time as the night I was there the ‘grc competition ran long into the evening.

    I will go again for the competitions but not for anything else.

  2. Thanks for the write up. It would appear you made the mistake of assuming the UKGE would not change from the previous years and its organisers would not do anything to improve things. You couldn’t be more wrong and for that you missed out. The Hilton as a venue was reduced to hosting free play area and RPGs. There were no resellers there or tournament play. That was all placed in NEC Halls 1 & 2, which is very spacious.

    My only negative was how the freeplay area was still too small and loud in Hall 2 while the Hilton did offer a lot of table space, it was 100% occupied by early afternoon on Saturday. Clearly something still needs to be done with free play areas as there still isn’t enough space..

    One more observation on the venue; I did like how the play test area was in Hall 2 as well as the smaller resellers. It allowed them greater exposure and reduced the congestion in Hall 1.

    With respect to hotels, it’s best to book via UKGE website as they offer significant discounts, similar to how this is managed for PAX in the US.

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